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The way it was
Tehran American School & community before the 1979 revolution


May 3, 2007

One of the many problems with the media's occasionally generous portrayal of Iran is they simply pick what they know or have heard, think it’s good enough and then proceed to run with it.

Recently a friend forwarded me a piece published in the Washington Post about a high school reunion of Americans who lived in Iran in 1962. The article puts forth how Iran was in 1962. 1962? Why 1962? Is that the best we have to offer? How quaint 1962 era Iran was?

Here’s the article, see for yourself. I sometimes wonder if the blatant demonization of Persia as in the recent 300 film debacle, and the more subtle "backwater" depiction as done here, are not part of a conspiracy to hit at us from all sides, both the harsh approach (300) and through the appearance of feigned kindness.

In this case, referring to Iran by someone who graduated in the sixties, as if this is the best relevant point in time to bring up today. As if this will somehow humanize us.

" ... Biblical times?"

" ... Camel crossings?"

" ... thousands of Americans"

" ... We didn't have American things to go to," Jan said. "No football team. No soda shop..."

" ... The Americans lived in compounds but still managed to experience the fabric of Tehran life: the chador-clad women, the irrigation ditches known as jubes running down the sides of streets, ... "

While this may very well have been the case in 1962 era Iran, things were far more advanced by 1979, the most recent time I would expect people to look at. Especially if one is comparing things to now.

Since I was there, I'll remind the esteemed readers that in fact there were close to 100,000 Americans and families living in Iran, not only in Tehran, but also in Esfahan, and Shiraz, in which there were American schools as well.

In TAS (Tehran American School) there was, count them, 5 fully manned American football teams! With a 6th fielded albeit weakly by none other than my alma mater Tehran International School: Iranzamin, who combined players with the Community school to put together the venerable "Trojans" against the Eagles (of course), Raiders (of course), Vikings, Marauders, and Phantoms, of TAS.

Not just high school football teams, but a full tee-ball, minor, major, and pony leagues of over 20 baseball teams per league, played full seasons, complete with scorekeepers, referees, coaches, uniforms and equipment. Hot dogs? Of course! I personally played for 5 years, even got my picture once in the English language Kayhan, showing me catching a rare game-winning fly ball in left field for my team, the Cubs. Kyle, Russell, Jamsheed, Bijan, Kamran, and I were never so proud of that championship season that year.

Not just baseball, but the Boy Scouts of America had not one, but 4 full boy scout troops, covering Cub, Webelo, Boy, as well as the latest advance in scouting at the time, Explorer Scout levels of achievement. Ascending Mt Damavand, learning winter survival skills in the harsh winters of Lashgarak, to the wonderful wildlife of the dead sea deserts of the mighty Kavirs, to spending a week with the Ghashghai tribe, to participation in a world scouting Jamboree on the Caspian coast.

Not only were there soda shops, but there was every kind of teenager hang out joint one could imagine, from great Mexican food, to Ray’s Pizza pantries (#3 was my favorite), to burger stands and other full service teenage consumption restaurants. We even saw Dirty Harry and James Bond shoot many a bad guy in English language movie theaters. Bowled, ice-skated, drank vodka-limes, smoked a little weed or hash, everything a normal American teenager did during the 70's. Wednesdays after school, I spent many an afternoon, reading Cycle World, Car and Driver, and Archie or Richie Rich comics, at the FBI (Foroushgaheh Bozorheh Iran, one of the many large department stores in Tehran) bookstands.

Americans did not live in compounds, because frankly there were too many of them to house, and strange as it might seem today, wandered freely and rented at the many apartments and homes across the cities in which they lived. As a result, trick or treating during Halloween each year was a highly profitable venture. This in stark contrast to Saudi Americans of today even, who must stay separated from the general Saudi population. Approximately 10,000 Americans actually made Iran their permanent home and owned property, horse ranches, orchards and other properties in which they lived alongside their Iranian neighbors. Peacefully, without incident.

Oh sure, occasionally a beautiful blonde teenage American girl would fall in love with an equally beautiful Iranian teenage boy, and the families would be at odds by normal protective fathers who each would forbid their child to see the other. Mostly fearing the very normal and typical heightened sexuality and hormonal outcome typical for the rock and roll infused lifestyle of the seventies. Blame it on the bump and grind of Disco if you want.

Jubes as irrigation ditches and chadors? The difference in design of what is a very common gutter in the streets of any modern city anywhere in the world, calling it an irrigation ditch, is way off. A jube is merely a slightly deeper gutter, which is actually more logical than the short shallow one in the US, but a jube is made out of concrete and everything.

Chadors while a traditional part of the southern poorer parts of Tehran were not as visible in the northern parts of the city, and I would say, in pre-revolution era 1979, it was a rare sight though not unknown, to maybe see one in twenty women wearing the chador at any time. Certainly not a common stereotype of the Iranian woman during the 70's. Most of the chadors were white or the printed paisley kind, more of a long shawl or scarf, rather than the stark black ones we have come to know as standard garb for the most pious or extremist.

By the end of 1979, through the takeover or invasion of Iran by the religious clerics we have seen since, and still see at the helm today, and primarily through the abandonment of their posts by the powers that used to be.

Iran has become what Iran has become. Nothing more, nothing surprising, nothing but a great big damn shame for all of us who witnessed a far better time. So 1962 is definitely not the moment in time that I will choose to remember and look back on.

Especially if I'm going to tell Americans who don't know.

A time it was, what a time it was. Comment

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